Niagara Gazette — Vincent Muto will continue his hockey career next season back where it began 13 years ago.
The 19-year-old defenseman from Niagara Falls recently announced he will sign a letter of intent to play at Niagara University next season four years after leaving the area in pursuit of a Division I scholarship.
Muto has spent this season in South Dakota playing for Sioux Falls of the United States Hockey League, where he has 10 points and is a plus-14 in 25 games with the first-place Stampede.
“It was a pretty easy decision,” Muto said. “I was looking for the small-school feel, and if you play at Niagara, you have a chance to go to the [NCAA tournament] every season. That’s what I was looking for.”
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Muto grew up in the Wheatfield Blades organization. He attended Niagara Falls High School as a freshman and sophomore before leaving to play hockey at Trinity-Pawling, a prep school near the New York-Connecticut border.
Muto said he turned down offers from Penn State University and the University of Alaska at Fairbanks in order to return home and play in front of his family and friends.
“Location was a big thing for me,” Muto said. “I’ve been doing the whole traveling, dorming thing in the USHL, so I’m looking forward to moving back home. … My dad’s side of the family has never seen me play. We’re all really excited that I’m coming back.”
Muto played one season in the British Columbia Hockey League before he was drafted 263rd overall by the Lincoln Stars in the 2011 USHL draft. He was traded to the Stampede four games into this season and has become a key player on the team’s blueline.
The experience of playing against some of the United State’s top talent in the junior league is something Muto figures will benefit him when he makes the jump to Division I next season. The 15th-ranked Purple Eagles currently have 12 players on their roster with roots in the USHL.
With Niagara set to graduate three seniors on defense during the offseason, Muto hopes his impact will be just as immediate for coach Dave Burkholder’s squad.
“I’m just going to work as hard as I can, and if they think I can step in and make an impact right away, I’ll be ready,” Muto said.
• The Purple Eagles reeled in their highest ever ranking from USCHO.com at No. 15 when the poll was released earlier this week. The previous high came in 2006-07 when the team was ranked 16th. The announcement marks the eighth straight week Niagara has been ranked within the top 20 this season, breaking the previous record of seven consecutive also set during the 2006-07 season.
• Goalie Carsen Chubak earned AHA Goalie of the Week honors for the sixth time this season after helping the Purple Eagles remain unbeaten against conference opponents with a pair of weekend wins over American International College. The breakout junior stopped 49 of 52 shots over the two games and continues to lead the nation in save percentage (.953) and shutouts (5).Follow freelance reporter Brandon Schlager on Twitter @B_Schlag.